By Sharon Monroe

It was the Destruction all over again, the pain, the fires, the Cylons bearing down on her with their laser rifles, this time with the added menace of the Ovions at least the Cylons hadn't tried to feed her to their young. The insect-creatures scurried aside from laser fire, and fled the smoke and flames, avoiding the armed warriors. She stumbled, but Starbuck caught her arm and propelled her forward over the bridge. For a micron she was looking over the edge; the chasm went down forever. Then he practically flung her at Boomer and into the elevator.

Starbuck stopped to aim at one of the enemies behind them, but he missed. Another fire started in the tylium-laced walls. She pushed herself tightly against the elevator wall, clenching her hands to stop their shaking. A Centurion pointed its weapon at Starbuck but the elevator door closed behind the humans, and for a moment Cassiopeia felt safe. She wanted to sag into her savior's arms, but Starbuck's attention was on his fellow warriors.

"What's going on down there? Where'd those Cylons come from?" the third warrior, Boomer, demanded. He hadn't seen the Ovion hatchery, and what had happened to so many human visitors to Carillon.

"We've got to get our people out of that casino!"

"We've got to get off Carillon! The Cylons are probably massing for an attack right now!"

"Is that supposed to be encouraging, Captain?"

She ignored the warriors' exchange, to comfort the boy. Boxey stared up at her with wide eyes, his fingers tangled into the imitation fur of his mechanical daggit. The daggit growled when she took the child's hand, then pressed closer to her as if to protect both its master and the socialator.

"We'll be all right," she whispered.

He nodded back. "I know. The Captain'll take care of us. But I want Momma, too."

You're not the only one.

The doors opened, and for a terror-filled moment, Cassie thought they were back in the tylium mines. Then the lights and sounds of Sire Uri's speech penetrated her shock. The captain took the boy, and the five humans ran into the huge celebration chamber.

Apollo's attempt to order a rapid, orderly evacuation from Carillon turned into a screaming rout when Cylons emerged, firing, from another elevator. Uri's hastily abdicated authority didn't help.

With laser fire and screams all around her, Cassiopeia dove for the nearest cover. The warriors who'd rescued her from the Ovion hatchery returned enemy fire, and had no more time to devote to the safety of a Gemonese socialator. Huddled behind an overturned table, she watched the warriors confer briefly, then lay down more orderly fire. She'd never had the opportunity to see the Military in action close up before; their accuracy and cool in the urgent situation impressed her; their protection gave her time to regain her own control and fight off the panic that had clutched at her since the moment the elevator doors opened, and she saw what their hosts had planned for her.

Only a small squad of Cylons had come through the elevator. In a few moments, they were destroyed.

Apollo jumped to his feet and began yelling orders again. "Out! Get out! Move to the doors in an orderly fashion, then board the rams and move to the shuttles! Get out!" He grabbed the small boy at his feet and gestured with his laser at the open archway to safety. This time, there were no confused questions, only a rush to obey.

An arm around her waist hurried her toward that door. She glanced up at Starbuck's worried face. "Move, Cassie. We've got to get out of here and back to the Galactica. The whole place is infested with Cylons."

She ran, finding Serina, the newswoman, running next to her.

"Boxey?" the brunette suddenly called in panic, losing sight of her son.

"There, with the Captain," Cassiopeia told her, catching her arm and pulling her along. Serina resisted until Apollo dumped the boy in her arms and turned back to help with the rest of the evacuation, and keep a rear guard against more Cylons.

In the melee outside, the three of them clung together desperately. The panicked crowd pushed to the land rams, bringing flashbacks to the brutal escape from the Colonies. When a new group of Cylons opened fire, the dead could scarcely fall for the crush. Then Sergeant Jolly and the rest of Blue Squadron appeared with armed rams and began fighting back; the humans had a chance, and time enough to get most of their civilians away. Somehow, they made it. Serina and her son were inside one of the land rams. Cassiopeia risked hanging on outside as they lurched away from the casino of fire and death, letting a wounded man have the place inside that she could have taken.

The warriors, too, were with them when they reached the shuttles.

A familiar face appeared from the darkness.


He pulled her close for a quick kiss; then the captain grabbed his arm. "C'mon, Starbuck!"

"Bye!" He vanished again.

Cassiopeia ran for a shuttle. There was no time to think; she stared numbly from the port as they launched, seeing waves of Vipers throwing themselves into the skies and battle and death. Death claimed shuttles as well. She hid her eyes for most of the trip back, afraid to watch the Vipers and Raiders fighting around them, certain that if she looked she would see death bearing down on her, or see the handsome Starbuck's ship go out in explosive flame. Her thoughts were a whirl of prayer for herself and for the warriors who fought to protect her, and for the warship those men and women called home.

"No!" a voice next to her wailed.

She risked a glance. One of the shuttles ahead of them drifted away, its interior glowing strangely for a moment before it exploded.

The woman screamed again.

"It's not us!" she yelled at her. "Don't look, don't think...."

They made it back. The shuttle docked on the battlestar.

"Come." She helped the still sobbing woman to her feet and pulled her off the craft; they unloaded as fast as possible so they could take inventory of the survivors and make room for more shuttles behind them.

A medic rushed past; she recognized Paye, the doctor who'd treated her arm when she first came aboard the Galactica, and who'd made several suggestive remarks she'd easily sidestepped. She caught his arm.

"Can you do something for hysteria?" She gestured at the woman she was helping.

His glance was pitying. "If she's not physically injured, we don't have the time. We've got to help the bleeding first...." He ran on.

"Neria!" a choked voice called.

The hysterical woman looked up with wild hope. "Boreus!"

Staring around her, Cassiopeia wished all the hurts could be eased in the arms of living loved ones. With a pang, a warrior's face floated before her again. Determined to wipe the man from her mind, afraid he was out there, dying, she turned away.

Another doctor was among the injured, working alone. She heard him growl as he dug through a small kit for some instrument of his trade.

She knelt beside the solidly-built, balding man. "Can I help?"

He glanced at her socialator's high-cut gown, noted her disarrayed blonde hair and smudged face. "Do you know anything about first aid?" he asked without regard for what he saw.

"My parents were merchants, had their own ship. They taught me how to deal with shipboard injuries. I've had some other training, too."

"Get some bandages out, and spread something on that wound." She obeyed. As he bound up the laser wound and sent the man on to life center, the physician said, "I'm Salik, chief life officer on this ship."

"I'm Cassiopeia," she replied, rummaging for more bandages and temporary splints in the kit. "What's next?"

"Over there." He pointed to a baby clutched tightly in its mother's arms; the woman stared silently into nothingness while the child cried piteously.

Cassiopeia took the baby while Salik treated the mother's bruises and burns, then sent her on to life center for emotional evaluation. The baby had several bruised ribs, and was obviously in pain how his mother had protected him from the fire, she didn't know but the gentle socialator soothed him and quieted his cries, rocking him until the doctor had a few moments to tend the child.

"You're good with hurt people," Salik commented after several more patients.

She shook her head self-deprecatingly. "I'm trained to figure out what's bothering people, physical or psychological, and to do something about it. Part of a socialator's skills. I'm not a med tech."

"Ever consider it? We could use you."

She blinked at the sudden and unexpected invitation. "The new Quorum banned socialation as a designation in the fleet."

"I know."

But that hadn't stopped a number of men from openly propositioning her, over the last few days on Carillon.

Salik continued. "You seem to have a gift for working with people. That would help a lot. Lords know we can always someone with the empathy you've been showing, and your energy and compassion."

"I'll think about it...."

Her mind was a whirl. It was true, as a socialator, she had no future in the fleet. There might be a market for her skills, but the Quorum had banned it; and there were enough religious cultists and squeamish Colonials from other, more .... restrained ... worlds around, to make life very difficult if she tried to live that way. Besides, Starbuck had said he would look around for a better ship. What better ship was there than the Galactica? And nursing would let her use certain of the skills she'd trained for so long to perfect....

"Help Paye with the injured warriors coming in!" Salik ordered. "I've got to get to life center, we have so many wounded..." He hurried away.

She recognized the next patient. It was Danvers, a friend of Starbuck's from Blue Squadron. She'd met him briefly on Carillon.

"You...." He stared at her torn clothes and smeared cosmetics.

"Celebration clothes," she shrugged. "I'm in training as a med tech, haven't had time to change." Cassie figured a med tech trainee would get more cooperation than a socialator. She gave him a reassuring smile and wrapped the burnt hand, liberally smeared with an analgesic salve, in a bandage. He accepted the explanation and her ministrations with a thankful sigh, and settled back to wait.

"Hey, uh ... Cassie, was it?" the young man asked.


"Any sign of Starbuck and Apollo yet? We lost 'em in the battle ... don't know where they went, and nobody here seems to know...."

"I'll check." She saw Paye sprinting toward her, and left Danvers in his care.

"Has anyone heard from Lieutenant Starbuck and Captain Apollo?" She ran closer to the landing zone, and grabbed the sleeve of another bone-tired warrior from Blue Squadron. It was Boomer, one of the heroes the party had been intended to honor, the third warrior in the elevator, and another of Starbuck's friends. It seemed there were so many of them among the injured and wounded....

He stared into space and shrugged. "Don't know. Thought we picked up some odd signals from some squadrons we don't have. Might have been them, but it could have been nothing. Nothing since then, and the battle's over, the Cylons ran. We don't know." He shook his head and sighed, looking solemn and almost defeated, then turned away.

With a sinking feeling, Cassiopeia felt utter disbelief that Starbuck could be dead.

"Positive shields!" A voice boomed through the bay. The landing bay screen brightened slightly in response.

"What's happening?" she demanded of no one in particular.

Someone answered, "They said Carillon was on fire and with all that tylium, it was inevitable she would explode. Probably--"

A strange glow filled the stars beyond the force screen, and an eerie something in the air sent tingles up her neck.

"Could Vipers survive that?" the blonde woman wondered aloud, shivering.

"Lords, I don't see how...." the stranger answered solemnly.

"Maybe they were far enough away...." a third person suggested hopefully.

Sorrowing, Cassiopeia turned away, wondering that she bothered to feel. Even if she cared to spend time with Starbuck, or to think about him in any way, there was that other woman, the brunette in pink, who'd been so possessive in the casino. Of course, she had faith in her own appearance and abilities, but....

What does it matter? He's gone....

He and his friends had rescued her from the Gemonese freighter. He'd teased her about her profession, but offered to help her for no reason. They'd spent a little time together in the bay, and in the launch tube, before the unannounced steam purge. There'd been a few centars on Carillon. It added up to very little, not really enough to deserve mourning. She'd spent more time with men as part of her job, and never thought about them again, except for a few exceptional ones, like Commander Cain, whom she'd known for a long time. What had there been with Starbuck, anyway? Nothing but it might have been the beginning of something. There had been something special and intriguing about the young warrior....

Salik had invited her to life center. That was where she went. Her life had another chance, a chance to be something completely different from what she had been, a chance to do more for the human beings she saw every day than ease a temporary physical or emotional need. Maybe as a med tech she would get the respect she'd never found as a socialator, in spite of all the yahrens of tolerance and support on parts of Gemon.

She had barely changed clothes before someone was yelling her name.


"Yes, doctor?" The uniform of a med tech seemed absurdly puritanical to a woman used to baring her skin in a provocative manner, and she noted Paye's bemused eyes following her as she walked. She smiled back demurely.

Salik gestured. "Two more Vipers coming in, and the med teams are busy here. Get down to Beta Bay; you know enough to ask if the warriors are hurt, and someone else'll be there as soon as we can spare them."

"On my way."

Two more Vipers. Two more Vipers. The words sang hopefully as she ran to the turbolift. Two more Vipers.... She tapped her foot impatiently during the slow trip to the bay. Images filled her mind of two brave young men fighting on Carillon. Two more Vipers. One to Alpha, one to Beta. She was on her way to Beta.

The ship came in as she grabbed the emergency kit from the wall and waited. An anxious tech joined her, a young man whose duties would include pulling the corpse from the wreckage if the Viper crashed.

It landed perfectly, beautifully, in one gleaming piece.

A handsome blond head with daring blue eyes and a sassy grin hopped out and carelessly threw his helmet to a waiting flight crew tech. Cassiopeia almost laughed, but instead marched forward very professionally.

"I'm your med tech. Any injuries?"

He did a double take. "You're...? Cassie?" The growing smile said he was glad she'd survived, and she suddenly knew she was going to give Athena the fight of her life for this man, for whatever kind of relationship they could have, however short-lived it might prove to be. Even if the other woman was the commander's daughter, and Tigh's aide, and his best friend's sister.... Well, life in the fleet would not be boring!

She smiled sweetly, and spoke low-voiced so the flight crew couldn't hear her. "I believe decontamination is the proper procedure, Lieutenant, unless you have some problem...?"

Starbuck smiled back suggestively. "Uh, come to think of it, I've got these headaches...."

Cassiopeia almost laughed at his self-assured invitation. "I'll check you out later personally, things are so crowded in life center. And I think we can dispense with office rates...."

Enter Sheba's Galaxy